The David Wax Museum
Missouri native David Wax attended Deep Springs College, a school in the California high desert where the twenty-six students spend part of their time helping operate a cattle ranch. He went to Mexico as part of an American Friends Service Committee student work group, transferred to Harvard, and then returned to Mexico on a fellowship to study the country's rural folk music. When he met up with musician and world traveler Suz Slezak, the David Wax Museum was born. At his request she brought to the band a donkey jawbone, a folk instrument from the state of Veracruz on Mexico's Gulf coast, and it remains one of the most delightful features of this young group's visual presentation.
Wax mastered the small jarana guitar and the son jarocho, the Veracruz folk genre that lent its characteristic syncopations to "La Bamba," and the band has a few absolutely joyous foot-tappers that effectively transfer the prosodic patterns to English lyrics. None is stickier than "Yes, Maria, Yes," whose chorus continues, "No, Maria, No. Your careless heart invites me in, just to see me go." Wax played in a Mexican roots band called La Tuza before the David Wax Museum was formed, and if there's room to dance there are some numbers that will make it happen.
But the David Wax Museum is not really an anglicized Mexican folk band. The basic sound and structure of most of their songs follows not the son jarocho but the slightly countrified indie rock of bands like Calexico. In most songs the Mexican element is not in the rhythms but in the collection of instruments on stage, including the jawbone (called a quijada) and other percussion, Wax's jarana, accordion, and bass. Slezak adds a fiddle, and other band members contribute a Farfisa organ and other instruments. The end result is a sound that draws its inspiration from rock--it's big and can be raucous--without using a lot of amplified percussion.
One indication that something major is up here is the presence of Dolph Ramseur, the North Carolina impresario who brought us the Avett Brothers, as the band's manager. Wax's band has been a hot ticket in Boston for the last year and did well at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival and last year's Newport Folk Festival. The David Wax Museum returns to the Ark on Friday, March 30.
[Originally published in March, 2012.]